The Difference Between Domestic Battery and Simple Battery in California

California has strong legal safeguards, including criminal statutes, to protect against domestic violence. Part of understanding domestic violence-related criminal law is understanding the purpose of the domestic violence statute. The law exists to protect people who are, in the words of the California courts, “in a special relationship for which society demands, and the victim may reasonably expect, stability and safety, and in which the victim… may be especially vulnerable.” In other words, not all relationships are covered by this statute. A person should not be convicted of a domestic violence crime if the facts of their case don’t meet the law’s requirements, including those governing the relationships that are (and aren’t) covered by the law. If you have been accused of a domestic violence crime, it is important to have an experienced California domestic violence attorney, who understands the process and the details of the law, working for you.

One example of a case that went forward as a domestic battery case but should not have was the interaction between “Jane Doe” and a man named Jason. Jane Doe was involved in a sexual relationship with Jason. After Jane Doe made statements that Jason had beaten her “all week long,” the police investigated, but the woman recanted everything and told the officers that the bruises on her body were a result of consensual rough sex she had with Jason. Despite this, the state brought charges against Jason for domestic violence (Section 273.5 of the Penal Code). He was ultimately convicted and sentenced to six years.

Jason appealed, and he was successful. The basis of his appeal was straightforward:  he argued that he could not possibly be guilty of violating Section 273.5 of the Penal Code because that statute requires that the abuser and the victim share one of a short list of specific relationships, none of which applied to him and Jane Doe. His attack on Jane Doe could only be simple battery, rather than domestic battery.

The appeals court agreed and threw out the domestic violence conviction. A person can only be found guilty of violating Section 273.5 if the alleged victim is the accused’s “spouse or former spouse,” “cohabitant or former cohabitant,” “fiancé or fiancée, or someone with whom the offender has, or previously had, an engagement or dating relationship,” or the “mother or father of the offender’s child.” Jason and the woman didn’t have children together, weren’t engaged, and weren’t married. The woman testified that, although the pair had been involved sexually for an extended period of time, their relationship wasn’t exclusive, and they “weren’t boyfriend and girlfriend.”

That meant that the only possible ground for a Section 273.5 charge was if the couple were cohabitating. The law in California requires, in order to conclude that two people are cohabitating (for the purposes of this criminal statute), that their relationship involve “sexual or amorous intimacy,” that the relationship have a degree of permanence, and that the two are actually living together. This relationship had each of the first two things but was missing the last component.

The evidence showed that, although Jason sometimes stayed at the woman’s trailer for two or three days, he always brought an overnight bag and returned to his home after the second or third day. He never kept belongings at her home. He did not come and go as he wanted but had to notify Jane Doe in advance if he wanted to come over. In short, all of this evidence showed that the woman’s “residence was in no way his residence. He merely slept overnight there occasionally.” That isn’t cohabitation under the law, and that meant that Jason couldn’t be guilty of violating this domestic violence statute.

The court ordered the domestic violence conviction thrown out and required the trial court to resentence him for a crime of simple battery. This is an important difference and potentially allowed Jason to receive a shorter sentence.

If you or a loved one is facing domestic violence-related criminal charges, give yourself a better chance of success by putting a skilled and determined advocate on your side. The experienced San Francisco criminal defense lawyers at Uthman Law Office have been providing reliable service for many years. Attorney David Uthman has over 20 years of experience as a litigation attorney and almost a decade of experience as a police officer. Put the power of our team’s wealth of experience to work for you. Call us today at (415) 556-9200 to schedule your FREE initial consultation to get the help you need.